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Il Pomodoro Italiano: History of The Golden Apple and How it Influenced Popular Dishes of the Nation

Il Pomodoro Italiano: History of The Golden Apple and How it Influenced Popular Dishes of the Nation

By Marini's, Food

The tomato is so much more than just a beloved base ingredient of many delicious dishes. From its domestication in Central America, the tomato has traversed to and fro across the Atlantic, fuelling a tale of aspiration and growth, agriculture and industry, class and identity, and global transition. With its interesting and organic history, we recount the surprising rise of the tomato from its New World origin to its Old World significance. From its ill-fated introduction into Renaissance Europe, the tomato has come to dominate Italian cuisine and the food industry over the course of three centuries. 

Did you know?

  • The word Tomato was derived from the Aztec word xitomatl. When it arrived in Europe, it was shortened to tomatl.
  • Originally called pomme d’amour (love apple) by the French, it was later simply named la tomate.
  • In Italy, it was pomi d’oro (golden apple) which now has become il pomodoro.
  • Tomatoes come in a vast variety of colors, including a beautiful golden yellow much like tomatillos that came from the Americas.
  • The tomato can be grown all year long in tropical temperatures.
  • By the 1830s, tomatoes were used as projectiles, tossed at offensive performers. 

“It took Italians an age to embrace the tomato, but the rest is juicy history.” – Robert Appelbaum

*Images used are for illustrative purposes only

The history of tomatoes in Italy dates back to 1548, when the house steward of Cosimo de’ Medici, the grand duke of Tuscany, wrote to the Medici private secretary announcing that the basket of tomatoes from the grand duke’s Florentine estate Torre del Gallo “had arrived safely.” It seems the Medicis did not consume the fruits, but instead merely gazed upon them. Although, botanists at that time suggested the tomato was indeed edible, this New World import, native to Mexico and possibly the South American coastal highlands, was met with dismay and revulsion. The tomato was deemed cold, moist, and “harmful to the head.” This was the ill-starred beginning of a fruit that is treated as a vegetable, and now one of the most used foodstuffs in America.

Due to its inauspicious start, the tomato was grown mainly for the use of ornamentals on tabletops after its arrival in Italy. For instance, the Florentine aristocrat Giovanvettorio Soderini wrote about how they “were to be sought only for their beauty,” and were produced only in gardens or flowerbeds. The tomato’s incredible ability to mutate and create new and different varieties aided its success. Yet, even in areas where the climate was ideal for growing tomatoes, their habit of growing to the ground suggested a low status. They were deemed not as filling as the other fruits already available by the peasant population so they were not adopted as a staple. Furthermore, the toxic and the inedible varieties discouraged many people from attempting to consume or prepare any other varietals. A few daring souls in the 1600s, mostly doctors and amateur botanists had realized that this “strange and horrible” fruit actually tasted good with a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper. It was then often associated with the eggplant, another exotic newcomer.

Recipes & Ranges

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The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692, but it’s believed that the author obtained the recipes from Spanish sources. Over time, the tomato began to shift away from suspicion to ubiquity. Early tomato preservation methods began emerging like sun drying and conserva nera, an early precursor to the tomato paste. Recipes like Pomidori alla Napolitana (Italian tomato paste) were recorded circa 1777, that had halved cored tomatoes, anchovies, parsley, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper. The concoction was then blended, stuffed back into the tomato, covered in breadcrumbs and baked.

Over the next several hundred years, unique assortments of tomatoes were developed for uses such as dried tomatoes, tomato sauce, pizza tomatoes, and tomatoes for long-term storage. These variations are usually known for their place of origin as much as by a variety name. For example, Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio is the “hanging tomato of Vesuvius”. Five different varieties have traditionally been used to make these “hanging” tomatoes. They are Fiaschella, Lampadina, Patanara, Principe Borghese, and Re Umberto. Other tomatoes that originated in Italy include San Marzano, Borgo Cellano, Christopher Columbus, Costoluto Genovese, and the Italian Pear. These tomatoes are characterized by a relatively intense flavor compared to varieties typically grown elsewhere.

The peasants of Naples began to put tomatoes on their flat breads as early as the late 1700s, creating something very close to the modern pizza. It soon gained popularity, especially with the elite of Europe and America. Hence, the pizza was born. By the 1830, tomatoes were so common that they became a staple food of the Italian peasant community, which typically sustained themselves mainly on tomatoes, legumes, bread and vegetables. At the same time in Naples, a recipe was written about pasta al pomodoro, the very first mention of tomatoes being paired with pasta. 

Queen Margherita’s Favorite

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After Italy became one nation in 1889, the King and Queen of Italy found it essential to visit the former kingdom of Naples to appease the citizenry who disliked their loss of independence. Queen Margherita was jaded with the same old French cuisine that they were eating everywhere they went, as that was the custom in all of Europe. She then called for the most famous pizza-maker in Naples, Raffaele Esposito, and decreed that he make pizza for her. He brought three types: pizza marinara with garlic, pizza Napoli with anchovies and a third with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil leaves. She fell madly in love with the third one and so Esposito named it after her – Pizza Margherita. A short time later, the Queen sent her emissary with a thank you note, which still today hangs on the wall of Pizzeria Brandi that is run by his descendants.

Tantalizing Dishes With Tomatoes

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Today, tomatoes have a substantial influence in modern Italian dishes and are thoroughly enjoyed around the world. To savor the best of what this juicy fruit has to offer, head to Marini’s on 57 and prepare to relish tomatoes in the finest Italian creations. Bestowed with the Brand of The Year award for best restaurant on multiple occasions as well as the Seal of Excellence, Marini’s on 57 exudes a deep passion in spreading the Italian culinary experience in Kuala Lumpur. This desire is evident in the menu that has been designed by award-winning chefs and led by Cavaliere Modesto Marini, using traditional recipes with a contemporary flair and innovative methods. Earning a sky-high repute among locals and tourists, Marini’s opulent elegance unfolds at a premiere Italian restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, offering you a taste of authentic Italian food with a modern twist. Whether you are with your friends, soulmate or business partner, your needs will indubitably be served with only the best.

If you have been inspired by what you have read about tomatoes, try the incredible Marini’s Minestrone, which is a classic Italian tomato soup with mixed seasonal vegetables, served with broccoli powder and tomato chips or the Polipo, Patate E Melanzana which has roasted octopus served with potato, a gorgeous tomato terrine, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar marinated eggplant and béarnaise sauce. If you love the simplicity of pasta and fresh tomato sauce, then the Cappellini All’ Aragosta is the dish for you. It’s all about fine angel hair pasta and decadent Maine lobster tail coated in a fresh tomato sauce. For something a tad more indulgent try the Merluzzo, Pomodoro, Olive E Fegato Grasso which is a sous-vide cod fish confit served with pan-seared duck liver, Taggiasca olive crumbs, parsnip purée and tomato jam. Marini’s sources only the finest international ingredients, so rest assured you’re in for an out this world, gastronomical experience.

With sheer passion and a creative vision, Marini’s prides itself as the ultimate place to eat in Kuala Lumpur. With an unswerving need to push boundaries and craft truly magnificent menus that changes with the global seasons, Marini’s on 57 brings the best of what the world has to offer directly to your plate for a truly fine dining experience.

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